Phyllis Law - March 2020 | 404.514.3397

Protecting Bright Futures

MARCH 2020

Bright Futures Bulletin

TheDangers of Catfishing

I represent middle school, high school, and college students in school disciplinary hearings, and there is a disturbing trend I am noticing. Kids as young as 12 years old are engaging in “catfishing.” Most 12 years old lack the maturity to anticipate that they could be deceived in this manner. Catfishing is defined as luring someone into a relationship by means of a fake online persona, usually targeting a specific victim for abuse, deception, or fraud. I have been aware of this phenomenon for quite a while but did not realize it had infiltrated our youth. Parents should discuss this with their children immediately. Two things should concern you. One, you don’t want your kids to be tricked by a catfisher and potentially publicly embarrassed or harmed. And two, you don’t want your child to be the catfisher. They could be disciplined at school, face criminal charges for engaging in fraud, and, worst of all, be responsible for serious emotional and mental distress to another human being. Most schools have a rule in the Code of Conduct that proscribes this activity. Cobb County Schools Rule 7 states, “Students will not use school technology resources to distribute nor display inappropriate material. Inappropriate materials include material containing knowingly false, recklessly false, or defamatory information.”

With young kids, this scam usually comes in one of two ways. Either friends or acquaintances pretend to be someone else the kid knows, or they create a fake profile, pretending to be a new friend. The motive of this scam can be as simple as a person trying to figure out if they are liked. But it can be much more complex. Some students have been humiliated by private photos and videos they thought they were sharing in confidence that suddenly end up going viral. The second and worst way catfishing is present is adult predators who are posing as kids. Young kids have been manipulated to send sexually explicit photos to someone they think is a “friend,” but the person is actually a predator who disseminates the photos online. Talk to your kids about this. Make sure they understand how vigilant they must be in their electronic communications. Teach them to verify that who they think they are communicating with is who they are actually communicating with. Here are some tips:

"Kids are enjoying many advantages today from advanced technology ... It is our duty to protect them."

1. Be suspicious if someone contacts you out of the blue. 2. Don’t give away personal information. 3. Utilize a chat service so you can see their face in real time. 4. Do not say something you would not say in public. 5. Teach your kids how easy it is to lie on social media. 6. Do not connect with someone on social media that you do not personally know. 7. Do not send photos or videos that you are not willing to share in public. Kids are enjoying many advantages today from advanced technology. But they also face many challenges. It is our duty to protect them. It won’t be easy, but we can do it together!

–Phyllis Gingrey Collins

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